Internal radiotherapy for penile cancer (brachytherapy)

Internal radiotherapy means giving radiotherapy to the cancer from inside the penis. It is also called brachytherapy.

The treatment gives a high dose of radiation to the cancer but very little to surrounding tissues. It can shrink the cancer, relieve symptoms and help you feel more comfortable. It might slow the growth of the cancer and can reduce pain.

Planning the treatment

The radiotherapy team carefully plans your treatment. They work out exactly where the cancer is in the penis and how much radiation you need to treat it. Your planning appointment takes from 1 to 2 hours.

You usually have a planning CT scan in the radiotherapy department.

The scan shows the cancer and the area around it. You might have other types of scans or x-rays to help your treatment team plan your radiotherapy. The plan they create is just for you.

Photo of a CT scanner

Having internal radiotherapy

The main type of internal radiotherapy for penile cancer is called interstitial brachytherapy.

Your doctor puts hollow applicators into the tissues of your penis in the area of the cancer. You have this under general anaesthetic Open a glossary item in the operating theatre. The applicators stay in place during your treatment and you need to be in hospital during this time.

During each treatment, your radiographer connects the applicators to the treatment machine. The machine sends a small pellet of radioactive material into each of the tubes in turn. The pellet releases radiation to treat your cancer. You might have your internal radiotherapy under general anaesthetic or sedation Open a glossary item. Your team makes sure you don’t feel any pain while having the treatment.

After the course of treatment is over, your doctor or radiographer removes the applicators. Your doctor will discuss with you how many treatments you will need to have and how long you need to stay in hospital for.

Radiotherapy treatment can cause inflammation of the urethra.  Open a glossary itemSo you will have a urinary catheter Open a glossary item during the treatment to allow you to pass urine freely. Your nurse usually takes this out once your course of treatment is over.

Side effects

Your team will talk about side effects with you before you start treatment. Side effects vary from person to person.

We have some information about possible side effects of penile cancer radiotherapy.

Last reviewed: 
17 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
17 Feb 2024
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    HN Van Poppel and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2013. Volume 24, Supplement 6

  • Contemporary role of radiotherapy in the management of penile cancer

    M Korzeniowski and J Crook 

    Translational Andrology and Urology, 2017. Voume 6, Issue 5

  • Low-dose brachytherapy for early stage penile cancer: a 20-year single-institution study (73 patients)

    A Cordoba and others 

    Radiation Oncology, 2016. Volume 27

  • Clinical Experience with Pulse Dose Rate Brachytherapy for Conservative Treatment of PenileCarcinoma and Comparison with Historical Data of Low Dose Rate Brachytherapy

    L Kamsu-Kom and others 

    Clinical Oncology, 2015. Volume 27, Number 7

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